Mezzanine pushes foward with multitasking systems: Bands to the left, DJs to the right.
Switching gears, this hybrid venue is clutch.
You can’t pull its top down and drive down the coast, but production manager Josh Roberts still calls San Francisco’s Mezzanine a “convertible” room. And since he’s the guy taking apart sound systems, swapping DJ booths, constructing runways and whatever else on the daily basis in the 1,000-capacity club, he’s certainly got the right.
The three-year old Mezzanine, located in the up-and-coming South of Market Street district (SoMa), was a successful dance club/interactive arts and events space, but management wanted more. “We decided to head into the live music scene,” says General Manager Jamieson Chandler. “With the evolution of music into dance rock and live electronic...[Mezzanine wanted to] provide that platform to play in an alternative modern venue.”
Keeping its dance, art and Indie roots Mezzanine added a live system, but retained its original dance system and events capabilities – rather than model itself on the city’s more classical live venues like the Warfield and the Philmore. “They saw the opportunity to open up a live venue,” Roberts says. “So they hired me to figure out how to make a hybrid room so they could keep the fantastic DJ system – we have a four corners Funktion-One system – and add a whole other system to it.” But in order to cater to both systems, without compromising one for the other, a lot of ingenuity was required of Mezzanine’s staff.
Two Systems, One Amp Rack
Prior to Mezzanine Roberts spent the past two decades touring with acts like Ben Harper and Beth Orton as a sound engineer and tour manager. He also runs a studio in the San Francisco Bay area. He brought his vast experience to the table with installers Mike Lacina and Brad Katz of JK Sound (jksound.com) to create a unique setup where bands play through line arrays flanking the stage and DJs still come in and work the dance system. Simple enough, right? Not quite.
“The interesting thing about our club is that we power both systems with one amp rack, one set of amplifiers and one set of processors,” Roberts says. “I’ve toured, at last count, to 27 countries and I’ve never seen a hybrid system that has both a live speaker system and a DJ speaker system powered from one amp rack.”
With Roberts drafting designs, and Katz toiling over mathematics and wires, they created what Roberts calls “The Contraption.” It’s a speaker switching device that has a relay that allows the club to switch between the systems, both routing to the QSC powerlight amplifiers, depending on their audio needs for the evening. “It was a big number crunching endeavor because the two systems are so completely different; they’re in different places in the room, they have different power requirements, so it was a math feat and Brad did an exceptionally good job.” Each system also has its own preset profile in the XTA processors to complete the swap.
The car-sized DJ booth earns the nickname "Ice Breaker."
Gearing For Live
For the live system they flew two arrays of six EAW KF730 Small Line Array Modules (SLAM) on either side of the stage. Though the modules are compact, each of the 12 has two low-, two mid- and two high-frequency drivers, which are all aligned in a vertical column. Since the stage was constructed at the same time, it was plausible to build four EAW SB1000 subwoofers into the front of the stage and acoustically isolate them from its surface in order to better eliminate phase cancellation.
To avoid any interference during live shows Roberts and his crew dismantle the parts of the dance system, taking down some of the Funktion One speakers. There is quite a bit of rearranging on a regular basis. “It is a lot of work, but you know what?” Roberts says. “Once you’ve practiced, it doesn’t take very long, less than half an hour.”
The setup gives bands a new twis on classical live venues
“When I was hired at Mezzanine as a production manager, in addition to not having the appropriate sound system, the venue wasn’t laid out right,” Roberts says. Ever the go-to guy, Roberts began to makeover the club. He moved Mezzanine’s offices off-site and turned the space into swanky dressing rooms with a private bathrooms and kitchenettes. The stage was constructed along with a custom DJ booth, which comparing it to the size of a car Roberts calls the “Ice Breaker.” DJs perform in the Ice Breaker from the stage, with the exception of joint acts or finicky DJs using a smaller booth on the dancefloor.
When DJ AM played a set with former Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker they battled back and forth in prototypical hybrid style. “We can’t switch back and forth between the EAW and the Funktion One, so we have the DJ play through the EAW rig that the band is playing through,” Roberts says. “And the system sounds great; the only difference is it comes out of one end and shoots across the full room as opposed to the Funktion One, which is four corners.”
To get the venue off its feet in the live market Mezzanine called in the city’s major players like Spundae to co-promote the shows. “While we had this background we had to completely reinvent ourselves in the live community,” Chandler says. They also reached out to Los Angeles native Travis Hellier, who Chandler says has “played a pivotal role in bridging the gap” as head of bookings.
Mezzanine’s agenda for the future includes video system additions, a permanent home for the Midas live consoles and musical variety. Chandler adds, “we’re just continually growing and expanding our repertoire and our arsenal of artists to provide that destination spot for everyone from 21 to 41 and beyond.”